Ailin Quinlan: Can we really have a safe Xmas dinner with all our loved ones?

Christmas 2020, for a significant number of Irish households, will mean a strange mix. So how do we keep everyone safe, asks Ailin Quinlan
Ailin Quinlan: Can we really have a safe Xmas dinner with all our loved ones?

WHO SITS WHERE?: How to you host both Covid-oblivious youngsters and the Covid-vulnerable for Christmas dinner? Picture: Stock

IS blood thicker than water? Really? And if it is, how strong are the blood-links in your family?

Because the strength of the family bond and the extent of how much we care for each other could be critical this Christmas. It could even mean the difference between life and death. At the very least it will be a lot more important than the strength of a hug and the cost of a gift.

There was, you see, that comment by Dr Gabriel Scally, which seems to have stuck fast in the minds of all who heard it. He said that those who take risks this Christmas could be burying friends and relations in January. Not only should people not travel home from abroad for Christmas, according to Scally, but despite the festive season we must all keep doing everything differently and remain cautious. We’ve got to continue seeing fewer people, enjoy less socialising, do more things online and maintain social distance — in other words, we’ve got to maintain that sense of caution we’ve nurtured over the long, gruelling months of 2020 right through to Christmas Day and the days around it.

Does anyone want to have the traditional, red, roaring-merry Christmas, meeting everyone, hugging people, exchanging presents you’ve touched and wrapped, getting up close and personal — and potentially burying infected friends and relations in January and February? If you don’t, then the way some people are behaving poses questions, none of them comfortable.

One of these questions is whether Christmas 2020 may mean that the famous Irish fear of causing offence will force more careful, more Covid-aware and older vulnerable people into uncomfortably close and risky proximity to those who don’t take the virus all that seriously.

And yes, there are lots of people out there, particularly younger people, who barely give the virus and its implications a thought.

I recently had to attend a medical appointment in the city on a weekday evening, which meant I needed to travel well outside the 5km limit. Carrying an official letter confirming the date, time and venue for my appointment, I left my house shortly before 5pm and began to travel along a back road which eventually intersects with the main Macroom-Cork about 20 minutes later. This was normally a fairly quiet route apart from rush hours. Today though, it was totally chock-a-block. I’d never seen it come even close to this busy.

There was bumper-to-bumper traffic coming against me, all lights blazing. But where was it all going and where was it coming from? Aren’t we supposed to be in the middle of a Level Five lockdown, I thought to myself. Isn’t it a fact that nobody is supposed to be travelling more than 5km from their home? And aren’t we all supposed to be working from home as much as possible? What was going on?

Where were all these motorists going if most shops, workplaces and all pubs and eateries were closed? None of this made a titter of sense.

But now I came to think of it, nothing about this so-called Level 5 Lockdown — including the disgraceful carnival show on the streets of Cork city last weekend — has made any sense. There is no resemblance to the Level 5 lockdown we experienced last spring when the roads were empty and most people seemed to take Covid seriously.

If this is how many people think is the way to behave in a Level Five Lockdown, what on earth will they do if we go down a level or two on the approach to Christmas?

Where does that leave the rest of us if some people treat a relaxation of restrictions as an opportunity to go hell-for-leather socially, and then expect to turn up as usual at the family Christmas Day dinner table? Many households are already deeply worried about the risk posed by Covid-careless or even asymptomatic family members who arrive home in the last days of December having spent the previous days socialising or working in environments which are not as strict as they should be.

What do you do if you suspect deep down that, despite all their earnest assurances, your teenage and twenty-something offspring and cousins and so on, have not been complying with basic Covid health protocols — and still expect to sit at your Christmas table next to vulnerable family members? Because, let’s face it, certain age-groups are not particularly renowned for their Covid-awareness (sorry guys, but it’s true) or their sense of personal responsibility around contracting or passing on the virus.

So Christmas 2020, for a significant number of Irish households, will mean a strange mix. There will be diners with underlying health conditions – heart problems, respiratory issues and more - who didn’t turn down the family invitation for fear of causing offence (we are Irish after all) but who, as a result, may end up sitting next to a son, daughter, niece or nephew who was out on the ran-tan til all hours on Christmas Eve.

There will be frail elders of an advanced age who welcome a bit of social interaction after many months of relative isolation, potentially sitting shoulder-to-shoulder with Covid-oblivious young wans who were hanging around indoor shopping centres with friends all day Christmas Eve. Think a minute about your host. He or she may suspect that certain family members have not been behaving responsibly in the past weeks. He or she also knows that Uncle Jack, Auntie Alice or granny have health problems like heart disease or severe asthma.

I have no doubt that some people are fearful of the prospect of guests becoming ill with Covid in January – cases which may later be traced back to someone at their dinner table. Yet I also believe most people honestly do not know how they can make things safe. They will likely not feel able to exclude either the Covid-careless or the Covid-vulnerable from this monumentally important traditional gathering for fear of causing a family rift. And you can hardly have everyone eating their Christmas dinner in different rooms. It’s an appalling vista.

In the end, your health, indeed your life, may come down to the strength of the blood-bond and to how much certain people care about each other. Happy Christmas, guys.

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